Attorney: Port CEO’s Board Position Is Not A Conflict Of Interest

Oct 24, 2012

The CEO of the Port of Seattle, Tay Yoshitani, can sit on the board of a private freight logistics company without creating a conflict of interest, according to an outside attorney hired by the Port of Seattle Commissioners. The attorney presented his formal opinion to the port Tuesday.

The situation dates back to this past summer, when Yoshitani accepted an offer to join the board of a company called Expeditors International.  Expeditors is a Seattle-based Fortune 500 company that helps other companies organize freight transportation. The company does not have any direct business with the Port of Seattle.  But the deal raised a lot of concerns, especially for Port Commissioner Rob Holland.

“I’ve got over 3,000 emails and phone calls from people all over the county, from various backgrounds, from elected officials to business owners, you name it," he said.  "It’s not just a radical small little group of people who are trying to get rid of our Chief Executive Officer.  In fact they are reasonable, informed people and they did have a concern about it.”

"If we don't have credibility with the public, then quite frankly, we don't have the mandate to operate."

Some questioned whether the CEO might personally benefit by giving Expeditors an advantage over Port of Seattle customers. A letter from state lawmakers said the deal could give Yoshitani the "power to prioritize his personal profit over the public mission of the taxpayer-supported Port of Seattle."

The Port then hired an outside attorney to review the situation.  They turned to Gerry Alexander, a former state Supreme Court Justice. Alexander found that the board job did not create a conflict of interest, nor an appearance of a conflict of interest.  In a 13-page memo, Alexander noted that “Expeditors does not perform any work for the Port and it has no contracts or other direct relationships with the Port.”  However, Alexander did suggest that Port Commissioners be required to approve any future employment contracts before any CEO is allowed to accept any position. 

Still, Holland says the matter is not over.  He said there are questions about whether Yoshitani inappropriately used Port resources as he was in talks with Expeditors about the board job.  Holland says the Attorney General’s office is investigating.

“We are a public agency, we are here to do the economic development work of the public, not private corporations or private businesses.  And if we don’t have credibility with the public, then quite frankly, we don’t have the mandate to operate,” he said.

The board deal is worth about $230,000 a year.  Yoshitani makes about $367,000 as Port CEO.